Welcome to the rolling hills and valleys of southern Schuylkill County, where historic log barns are Pennsylvania’s best kept secret. Expert barn historian Bob Ensminger agrees that Schuylkill County may hold the most log crib barns in the state. For your tour this weekend we have chosen six of the thirteen log barns that have been found just “over the Blue Mountain”, in a line from Oak Grove near the Swatara Gap, to the border with Carbon County and Lehigh County, near Tamaqua. Even more log barns are located in the western end of the county – hopefully for another barn tour! We’re even throwing in a glimpse of a log house with beautiful marriage marks, lunch in another log house which reportedly dates back to 1792, and a remarkable standard frame barn dated 1842.
In the mid-1700’s, the area now known as Schuylkill County was still a wild frontier, although there is documentation of early settlements. Early settlers came over the Blue Mountain from Berks County and Lebanon County and also through the Swatara Gap. There were many skirmishes with the Indians living here, and the early settlers petitioned the government for more protection. According to the History of Pine Grove, the people began to erect Watch houses and converted farm houses to block houses to guard the Indian trails. In 1755, “practically all the plantations between the Schuylkill River and the Swatara were abandoned, while the settlers engaged in the historic ‘Skedaddle’”. Finally, a line of forts were established along the Blue Mountain. Settlers would flee from their homes to the protection of these forts and block houses on the south side of the Blue until it was deemed safe to return to their homes.
Most of the early settlers were Germans, and most came to establish farms. Many of our farm families today are descendants of these first German settlers. We have quite a few farms that have been in the same family for 100 or 200 years. Some still hold the deeds that reference the original land warrants from the Penn brothers. A “Pennsylvania Dutch” culture developed that still exists to this day in some farm families. Go to the local feed store or local restaurants and you can still hear the older folks speaking the dialect. Our farm life still revolves around the seasons: spring planting, haymaking, harvest, hunting season, the holidays, then butchering with several farm families and friends joining in to help with the work, which includes making scrapple, “puddin”, and lard. When one farm family has a break-down or some other crippling event, the neighbors pitch in to help. Sunday is for church and a break from all but the necessary farm work.
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